Sunday 7 July 2024

Separating Yorùbá religious tradition from Ìṣẹ̀ṣe (2)

'Arugba' religious scene associated with 'Ìṣẹ̀ṣe', during a yearly festival, Osun Osogbo, in Osun State, Southwest, Nigeria.

•historically, there was no  homogenous Yoruba religious belief 

•facts have uncovered widespread Yoruba atheists of ancient eras

By Ayojinmi Adeolu, Biodun Olojede-Akiola, Idayat Obaduwa-Babajide, Matthew Ola Adejinmi, and Bunmi Olokiki

FIRST part, published on August 21, 2023, of the same research work titled 'Separating Yorùbá religious tradition from Ìṣẹ̀ṣe', has established the difference between the two subjects. We established, with facts, that Ìṣẹ̀ṣe as a religious belief is different from the tradition and culture of the Yoruba. 

The writers noted that in the period of Oduduwa, the worship of Eledumare (God) was firmly established as Yoruba traditional religious belief. It was also clarified that iconising deities as practised by Ìṣẹ̀ṣe' faithfuls started after the reign of Oduduwa, meaning that the Yoruba people – of the ancient era mentioned – were either sparsely or widely monotheists before some individuals became posthumously deified.

 In the concluding paragraphs of the first part of 'Separating Yorùbá religious tradition from Ìṣẹ̀ṣe', we asked if there were monotheists Yoruba that did not share in Oduduwa's belief in Ifa. We also wanted to know if there were Yoruba people who continued with monotheism after Oduduwa, specifically, when legends like Sango, Obatala, Osun and hundreds of other individuals were deified.

 The first part of the series concluded that Ìṣẹ̀ṣe' was never, and is not, a Yoruba religion as it did not represent the religious belief of the entire Yoruba of ancient era (pre, during and after Oduduwa). As some Yoruba were worshipping the deified men and women who came after the demise of Oduduwa, we again ask: were there other Yoruba that believed strictly in Olodumare or Eledumare (God) without attaching any deity to God?  Were Yoruba of ancient eras widely or sparsely atheists? In answering the question of whether or not there were Yoruba monotheists during and after Oduduwa, we have researched into the roots of the people's long held tradition that covers religion, spirituality and other aspects of human endeavours. 

Fundamentally, it has been proven that Africans' ancestors were widely monotheists, and not majority atheists or polytheist in religious belief. Moses, in the Bible came to Egypt and married a black African woman. The father-in-law was clearly a monotheist, given the fact that the Bible did not mention conflict of religious belief between the visitor (Moses) and his hosts. In fact, Moses' belief in God seemed to have been strengthened during his stay with his in-law, in the town widely speculated to be populated by blacks. Exodus 2:16 and 18:24 explains how Moses' faith in God was stronger, and not in conflict with his hosts.' So, it's safe to say that Moses' knowledge about God was boosted during his stay with the Egyptian in-law, Reuel.

Before Moses, there was Noah, from whom black people got their descents. Noah's son, Ham begot Cush-Genesis 10:1-8. Cush (or Kush) means black. So, it can be emphatically stated that ancestrally, black people (Yoruba inclusive) were monotheists, meaning: imo Olorun l'okan l'agba; Ìṣẹ̀ṣe' ko l'agba (belief in Oneness of God is mankind's first religion, and not worshiping of deified individuals). There have been debates about whether or not creation, by God, started from Africa or in the Middle East. This kind of debate gives strength to the argument that diverse religious beliefs most likely took their origin from Africa.

For the reason of different religious beliefs, the biblical accounts cited above can be contested by those who always oppose and doubt the contents of the bible. However, scientific evidences provide another window of objectivity with facts. Science also confirms Africa's leadership in the belief in oneness of God, to an extent. Science also, indirectly supports the role of the blacks in spiritual submission to their Creator. 

This research stands with proven scientific facts about the early humans that lived, which links Africa to the beginning of man's early spiritual belief in God. A 1974 discovery of bone specimens named Lucy, in Ethiopia, dated to about 3.2 million years – which has not been proven wrong – formed the basis on which to track the belief of early humans in the oneness of God. And from the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam,  scriptures made reference of Ethiopia, a black inhabitants land, as strong in belief in oneness of God. So, the natural monotheism characteristics of early blacks seemed to have been established, historically, scripturally and scientifically. 

However, as stated in the first part of Separating Yorùbá religious tradition from Ìṣẹ̀ṣe, it's important to reiterate here that this serialised research article is not meant to pass judgement on Ìṣẹ̀ṣe' practice. The purpose of this research is to correct the long held wrong belief that the Yoruba have a 'traditional religion'. The truth is that Yoruba people never, ancestrally, had a traditional religion. The Yoruba, till date, still do not have any traditional religion. Historically, Yoruba were never religiously homogeneous.

Among such areas of human endeavours that have uncovered the non-homogenous religious diversity of the ancient Yoruba are the people's names. As many as there are Yoruba names that glorify polytheism, so also others have no religious attachment, yet celebrates monotheism. The names diversity of the Yoruba people confirm the people's non-homogenous religion, historically. The names, eulogy (oríkì) factors confirmed that ancient Yoruba had no homogenous religion. This fact will be treated later in this serialised research documents.

We started our research with pre-Oduduwa era of Yorubaland and came across many writers' works that proved how Oduduwa was not the first inhabitant of Yorubaland. For example, in his book 'The Frontier States of Western Yorubaland (1600-1889)', Biodun Adediran wrote that pre-Oduduwa era had aboriginals in most parts of the land then. "There are widespread traditions which make it unmistakably clear that the Odùduwà period was not the earliest," Adediran wrote under the heading 'Traditions of The Early Inhabitants of Yorubaland. "Both versions of the traditions of origin agree that aboriginal inhabitants existed who had to be subdued by members of the Odùduwà group in different parts of Yorùbáland." Adediran referenced work of Smith, R.S. in 'Kingdoms of the Yorùbá', p. 59. Smith's book highlighted "conflicts between the Odùduwà group and pre-Odùduwà inhabitants in Ijęsà, with the Elésun at Adó-Èkìtì, p. 64; with the Eléféne at Qwo, p.71; and with ìdóko at Ondó and Ijębú." 

The works of Adediran and Smith, among others, confirmed that there were Yoruba aboriginals on ground before Oduduwa became iconic with his Ifa knowledge and religion. Were the Yoruba of pre-Oduduwa faithless (atheists), monotheists or pseudo-monotheists? Professor Sophie Bosede Oluwole (12 May, 1935 -23 December, 2018) suggested that Ifa, as knowledge came to Yorubaland several centuries before Oduduwa. In her 2014 book 'Socrates and Ọ̀rúnmìlà: Two Patron Saints of Classical Philosophy, Prof Oluwole noted that while Socrates was born in Athens, Greece, around 468 BC, Orunmila's birth period was estimated at around 500BC. Prof Oluwole's date of Orunmila period was based on her historical research; no scientific facts such as carbon dating of any artefacts. However, human existence in what is now known as Yorubaland, according to the Iho Eleru skull dated back to Later Stone Age. The Iho Eleru (cave of ashes) skull, found in 1965 by archaeologist Thurston Shaw has been dated to between 11,7009-9, 200- BC.

 From scientific and historical accounts, people existed in Yorubaland before Orunmila and Oduduwa. And as there were no records of iconic Ifa priests before Orunmila – from Prof Oluwole's account – one of the under listed, most likely, happened to the people's religious belief: (a) Yoruba people were faithless. (b). The Yoruba were monotheists. (c) The Yoruba then were of faithless, monotheism and polytheism mixed in spirituality.

Possibility (c) comes into focus before returning to (a) and (b), along this journey of probity. It can also be argued that Yorubaland – if existed in pre-Orunmila periods as scientific evidences showed – had no traditional religion. Still going by Prof Oluwole's book, Yorubaland was not known to Ifa practice before 500BC as there was no mention of any names such as Ifa priest or icon before the birth of Orunmila. In fact, many historians on Ifa have written that Orunmila founded the Ifa knowledge, just as followers also believed that he is a spirit who is "next to Eledumare." For example, a scholar, Peju Yemaja, in her work noted that Orunmila is known as a primordial Orisha, from orun (heaven) and has been in existence before humanity. 

Yemaja and other scholars' positions of a pre-creation existence of Orunmila contradict that of Prof Oluwole who stated that the Ifa founder was born in 500BC. The gross contradictions among Ifa historians and followers, over the origin and periods of Orunmila, in addition to non-existence or scantily practice of Ifa knowledge in Yorubaland for thousands of years pre-Oduduwa are clear indications that the Yoruba people were widely not known as Ifa practitioners in the ancient periods referenced.

The argument that Yorùbá people's culture and tradition is synonymous with Ifa practice or Ìṣẹ̀ṣe' religion can be easily punctured. Ifa as a practice and spiritual belief in those deified individuals such as Odùdùwa, Ọbàtálá, Sango, Osun, Ògún, Oya, Èsù, Aje, Àyàngalu, Osanyin, Obà, Ọbalúayé and Olòókun among others, were never widely spread among ancient Yoruba. Two most resilient and surviving culture and tradition of the Yoruba that come as evidences of the people's religious diversity are names and oríkì (eulogy) of the people. 

 The Yoruba's names and oriki led us to either possibility (a), that Yoruba people were faithless or (b), which means the Yoruba were monotheists.(Continues in Part-3).

 -Ayojinmi Adeolu, Biodun Olojede-Akiola, Idayat Obaduwa-Babajide, Matthew Ola Adejinmi and Bunmi Olokiki contributed the article from an ongoing joint-research.

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